I noticed something was different about 22/7 from its very first moments, as soon as I heard heroine Miu Takigawa speak. Miu is voiced by Nagomi Saijō, a newcomer to anime voice acting, and you can hear it in her performance – in contrast with anime’s regularly heightened, over-exaggerated vocal affectations, Miu sounds sullen and unvarnished and deeply human. Her authentic, captivating performance serves as a neat microcosm of Nanabun no Nijyuuni’s overall strengths; this may be an idol drama, but it’s also a story about human beings.
Miu isn’t your usual idol anime heroine: she’s resentful, fatigued, and deeply depressed. She’s bitter at the world adults have created, and she has every reason to be – though she loves her mother and little sister, her mother’s infirmity means she must serve as the house’s income, as well as its cook and caretaker. And so she spends her days going through repetitive but necessary motions, cursing this society that promised everything but provided nothing.
Early scenes of Miu sleepwalking through her listless days are elevated through acute sound design, gusts of breath and tinkling chimes clearly conveying the sense of cold winter days. Evocative, isolating layouts and sharp lighting complete the picture of youthful unhappiness, while Miu’s incredibly expressive face captures her every shift in mood. The beauty and expressiveness of these character designs, as well as the telltale volume of their hair, made me immediately look up their designer – it turns out Miu herself was designed by character design legend Yukiko Horiguchi (one of Naoko Yamada’s frequent collaborators), and the show’s other characters do a fine job of matching Horiguchi’s distinctive blueprint.
The scenes conveying Miu’s unhappy domestic life landed with more emotional impact than any other premiere this season. Watching her argue with her boss about losing her seasonal job, or lash out at her sister for reminding her of her own abandoned dreams, struck with an impact that only the most carefully observed dramas can match. Miu’s bitterness towards the entertainment industry feels righteously earned, and the strange monolith guiding her and seven other girls towards stardom promises a narrative rich in both fantastical hooks and thematic bite. I’m eager to explore more of 22/7’s strange world, and even more excited simply to watch Miu grow as a character, and challenge the forces that have placed her in such convincing, heartbreaking circumstances.
This wasn’t a flawless debut; in particular, the personalities of Miu’s fellow idols felt far more archetype-friendly than her own, making for an awkward contrast with her own three dimensional characterization. But given this episode was tasked with conveying the tenor of Miu’s life, introducing its convoluted fantasy conceit, and debuting eight heroines all at once, I can forgive it for some characterization shorthand when it comes to the secondary cast. All in all, 22/7 offered a premiere whose strengths utterly overshadowed its weaknesses, full of sharp dialogue and beautifully articulated character moments. I can’t wait to see where Miu’s journey takes her.
An anime adaptation of 22/7 adds another title to the seasonal idol lineup we get every year. Usually, we get at least 1-2 idol theme anime per season but 22/7 is also known for being a real life idol group. And make no mistake, becoming a member of the 22/7 idol group is no easy task. Because out of over 10,000 candidates, only a few are selected as being worthy. On a few are born to be an idol. Only a few has what it takes to be a member of 22/7.
Idol shows are known for their promotional material and a testament of having characters as role models. The members have strict life styles and in Japanese culture, they must abide to rules or be eliminated. Because of this, becoming part of an idol group is a celebrated feat, an accomplishment that one should be proud of. 22/7 consists of 8 characters, all with different personalities, backgrounds, and ambitions. However, they are united under the same banner, to be idols and entertain the world through music.
The idol culture graces us with facts that in the entertainment world, anything can happen. Being high school students, they’re still learning to grow up and taking steps into adolescence is no easy task. The first few episodes promises to set up a storytelling saga to showcase the reality of idol life. Being managed by “The Wall”, the show is unique in that it’s not managed by a talent agency. From the first episode, we are introduced to Miu Takuigawa, an ordinary high school teenager looking for work. After having trouble earning income for her family, she decides to become a member but interestingly enough, Miu is one of the less qualified members compared to the other cast. More interestingly, Miu is initially chosen as the lead center and with that comes a huge responsibility. It doesn’t take long for her to clash with fellow idol member Nicole in the second episode. And this shouldn’t be a surprise either as the audience should easily be able to see that Nicole qualifies more as a leader than Miu. The first two episodes brings together the melodrama and reality of being in an idol group. Even within the group, they have problems so what’s to say they won’t face even bigger problems?
Luckily, differences can be put aside as by the time we reach the third episode, 22/7 is in line to perform their first live concert. It doesn’t go well at first due to equipment failure but as the leader, Miu takes charge for herself and manages to save them from humiliation. In essence, her actions earns the respect of the group and the audience. And because of her committment, it’s safe to say that Miu earned her spot. But this show isn’t just about Miu. Viewers should remember that there are 7 other girls and each of them come from different backgrounds. From episode 4 and onwards, we are given insights about some of their personalities and background stories on a personal level for the remaining cast. This form of storytelling is also important as it showcase the realism of the show. There’s obvious social problems that the idols deal with including social anxiety, loneliness, self-doubt, and even the deaths of a loved one. If we look at the bigger picture, this show seems to aim to be an emotional drama than the lighthearted pop culture such as Idolmaster or Love Live. Some of my favorite episodes in this season exists because it gets you emotionally invested into the cast such as Akane, Toda, and even Ayaka. Other times, the anime aims to collectively tell stories about the group as a whole to the world. In one of the later episodes, it tests the emotional connection of the group as they become attached together like a family. The more you watch 22/7, the more you realize it’s more than just a group of idols existing together to perform on stage. It’s about living a life to fulfill dreams and overcoming life obstacles that didn’t seem possible.
From the theatrical performances to the character designs, A-1 Pictures adapted this anime like a play. The characters are the actors, or idols in this case, but always portrayed as realistic as possible. They are humans after all and even transcending into the idol realm doesn’t immortalize them as Gods. But as 22/7 grows more in popularity, you can see how the group improves themselves with better dance coordination, singing tunes, and even their stage outfits. On the technical level, the animated music videos themselves uses CGI with some 3D choreography. Now, before you throw the towel, I do want to say this show managed to animate itself rather well. The dance movements look sharp and chereography has coordination while not being overly reliant on the animation itself. It may take time to get used to but as it stands, 22/7’s CGI works wonders.
Now, the big question remains. How should the music be judged? As “idols who cross dimensions”, the seiyu in this show had to undergo through lengthy process of being selected so rest assured that the music you hear is top tier quality. It relies a lot on conveying emotions and communicating the idols’ emotions to the audience. Sony Music Records bought top tier talent together to compose their discography. The most noticeable one is perhaps the OP theme song, “MuzuI” performed by Uta Kawase. Also distinguishable is the fact that almost every episode contains a different ED theme, most often featuring the prominent character related to that episode. Insert songs are also occasionally used in episodes during climatic moments.
There’s a good chance people missed out on this show this year. It’s a niche anime targeted to the music demographic but from what’s shown, 22/7 itself went above expectations to be more than just idols performing on stage. The amount of melancholy is above the general consensus and in retrospect, it reinvents itself as a music drama. Spread the word and let it be known that 22/7 is a rewarding experience.